Make mental health part of your core business

One in five Australians will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime, and this includes small business owners.

We know that there are three million small businesses in Australia with turnover of up to $10 million a year. As our largest employment sector, small business owners are among those most likely to be affected by mental health issues.

I can speak from experience, having run my own small businesses for nearly 20 years: the stress of managing cash flow, staff, and myriad other issues can impact on small businesses every day, and at times it can be overwhelming.

It’s important to realise that mental health issues can hit anyone. I have personally experienced mental health problems – as a teenager, I spent a number of years struggling with anorexia.

Small business owners find themselves in a difficult position, as they may feel that taking time away from work would damage their business and let down their staff.

They may also feel like they need to be strong for their families. But when it comes to mental health, being strong means seeking the help you need to recover.

The reality is that if small business owners don’t address mental health issues, it’s likely that their businesses will suffer, which then flows on to family and other personal relationships. Small business owners owe it to themselves to look after their mental health for the sake of their businesses.

So the first challenge is to get small business owners to realise the health and financial impacts of ignoring mental health problems, and the second is to spread the message that there are tools readily available – including online resources – to help tackle the issue head on.

One of the online resources available is Ten things you can do to make your workplace mentally healthy, which provides tips for small businesses on the website.

By taking steps towards addressing the issue, small business owners have the chance to not only preserve their own health, but to show leadership on the issue and be an example to their employees who may also be facing mental health problems.

To put it into context, statistics show that at any given time, one in five employees is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition, while 6 million working days are lost in Australia each year as a result of untreated depression.

Research by PwC has also shown that every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace will have an average return on investment of $2.30.

So by taking action, small business owners can look after their own mental health and that of their employees, and in doing so, help ensure the long-term health of their bottom line.

Kate Carnell is the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

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